A flirtatious Ashes series which has often been seductive without delivering much in the way of long-term commitment, so much so that the urn might have been sponsored by Ashley Madison, lent its loyalties for the final time to Australia as they claimed the fifth Investec Test by an innings and 46 runs.
There has been much to enjoy over the five Tests in a series watched by capacity crowds – and lovers of Test cricket will delight in that – but history is likely to judge this hit-and-miss series one of the more insubstantial affairs between two teams possessing striking inconsistencies – loved for their skill, unlikely to be hailed for their resilience.
Alastair Cook, England’s captain, will make light of that, content that after a 5-0 whitewash in Australia the Ashes have been regained. “I honestly believe this is a highly-talented group of players,” he said. “Being underdogs helped us and allowed us to play with a bit of freedom. It has been a very different Ashes series: two-and-a-half day Test matches with one side getting on top and the other unable to respond, but I am very proud of the lads.”
As if to reveal this trait, all five matches have been one-sided. There has been entertainment a plenty but little tension. As well as this victory margin – an innings and 46 runs, Australia found further consolation in London when they won by 405 runs at Lord’s. England dominated by 169 runs in Cardiff, eight wickets at Edgbaston and an innings and 78 at Trent Bridge. The ability to fight back in adversity has been strangely lacking. It has not been a series to be holding tickets for the final day.
Rain delayed Australia for nearly three hours on the fourth day – not many batsmen on either side can claim to have done that to bowlers during this series – before Peter Siddle, appearing in the final Test like a battle-hardened guest star from a more sober age, took the last two wickets to finish with 4 for 35 and 6 for 67 in the match.
England’s winning margin was clipped to 3-2 and properly so. Stuart Broad, the leading wicket-taker in the series, is followed by four Australians. Joe Root is the only England batsman in the top four run-makers.
But England won some decisive passages of play, not just Stuart Broad with eight wickets on a heady first morning at Trent Bridge, but also the man who pipped him for the Man of the Series award, Joe Root, who struck centuries at Cardiff and Trent Bridge. The citation from Australia’s coach, Darren Lehmann, praised: “Outstanding knocks in bowler-friendly conditions at key moments.”
Chris Rogers, one player whose resilence could be taken for granted, was Australia’s Man of the Series. It has been hard work: the wickets have been tough and England have bowled pretty well,” he said. “I am a very proud Australian but it’s quite fitting for me that I get to finish up in England,. England has been pretty good to me.”
Pitches at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge shamelessly played to England strengths. England, although they are far from being a strong Test side, can be an exciting one and they can be grateful to have regained popularity and come away with the spoils. Considering the disenchantment that surrounded English cricket after a feeble World Cup challenge, the director of England cricket, Andrew Strauss will more than settle for that.
Michael Clarke, although saddled with an Ashes record of five defeats in seven, at least retired knowing that for his farewell appearance the dressing room had responded to his leadership. “But this was not about me,” he said. “It was about the need to show determination. We are very proud of the result, although Alastair and England deserve a lot of credit.”
England still trailed by 129 when they resumed their second innings at 203 for 6. Mark Wood’s appearance as a nightwatchman on Saturday evening had appeared dubious even for those who are not automatically critical of the tactic. Any policy that pushes Moeen Ali down to No. 9, where his involvement can be curtailed in the space of two balls, surely does not have logic on its side, especially considering the prospect that he will be used as an opening batsman against Pakistan in the UAE in October.
Since it was pointed out that the umpires have excelled in this series, with 31 of the first 32 reviews falling in their favour (the umpire’s call margin of error helps in this of course), the figures have been slightly tarnished by several reversed decisions for Kumar Dharmasena, the latest being when Australia successfully overturned his refusal of Siddle’s lbw appeal against Wood, DRS showing the ball going on to hit leg stump.
The recent introduction of the system where the third umpire’s instructions can be heard on TV and radio has added to the understanding of, and trust in, the system. India’s continued resistance is perverse.
Jos Buttler’s disappointing Ashes campaign then came to rest when three overs later he drove Mitchell Marsh weakly to mid-off. Had Moeen’s edge of Siddle carried to slip before he had scored, Australia might well have beaten the rain.
Instead, much fidgeting ensured before Siddle bowled Broad with the second ball of the resumption, defeating an intended blow down the ground, and then found the edge as Moeen attempted a back-foot force.